Forward to the Past – The Pains of 90s Technology

A few things happened recently which made me rue both classic and modern technology. My 4yr old recently became OBSESSED with the classic Sonic the Hedgehog series. We’re talking Sonic 1, 2, 3, Knuckles, and CD. Especially CD! But it was when he was playing Sonic 3 that I noticed something very odd happen. He went down for his dinner, so I shut off the console knowing he could carry on from where he left on, Sonic 3 being the first Sonic title to let you save your progress. On his return, we turned the console on to find… there was no saved game. Luckily, he has no idea what a ‘save game’ is so had no problem just restarting again but it immediately dawned on me; I’d been hit by my first dead cartridge battery.

Or so I thought. The bigger problem with Sonic 3 cartridges is that they don’t actually include a battery to save their game progress, but instead used what is known as a FRAM chip. I think it’s some kind of flash memory chip which ‘writes’ the save game to its memory. And swapping it out for a fresh one involves soldering. And I can’t be arsed. So my boy will continue to play Sonic 3, thinking he can only ever play it in a no save fashion, a la Sonic 1 & 2. He’ll probably hate me when he’s older (or I could just let him play one of the countless ports out there), but Sonic is that rare instance of not simply swapping a battery out for a new one.

 

I think that fat red bastard has something to do with it

 

A few weeks later, I buy a Master System second hand, in a very good condition. Get the bugger home, and there’s no RF cable for the TV. I used to have LOADS of these as a kid. Not when I need it though. Can’t find one anywhere now. Frustrating doesn’t come into it when you want to play Donald Duck and the Lucky Dime Caper. And then it’s the whole, “Well you can just buy one on Ebay for a fiver!” Well you can but… who can be arsed? You just want to pop into Poundland and get one cheap. But guess what, the cheapest shop in town doesn’t sell the least demanded TV leads.

 

None of this HDMI bullshit, it’s all radio frequencies up in this house

 

We couldn’t save notes back in the early 90s on things like mobile phones, laptops, PCs with worthwhile Word processors on them; we just didn’t have that stuff. So gaming manuals came with ‘Notes’ sections in the back, where you could document your passwords, hints, anything you wanted to help you along with the game. If you were an idiot. Who the hell defaced their manuals like this?? Idiots, that’s who. If you couldn’t resist writing crap in the ‘notes’ pages for ******, you didn’t deserve to own such a classic.

 

I’m a professional, so decided against drawing lots of willies on this

 

We also didn’t have the internet, so you had to hope that your favourite gaming publication had recently done a guide on the game you were stuck on, otherwise you might find yourself having to call the Nintendo Hotline to get help on reaching the 2nd exit of the infamous Cheese Bridge Area. I had a notorious moment trying to figure out the puzzle for a room in one of the dungeons of Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. There’s a moment in the Bottle Grotto dungeon where you are told in one particular room you must kill 3 enemies in a certain order, that you must first defeated the imprisoned Pols Voice, and finish Stalfos off last.

I had no idea what these were. Not a clue. I don’t ever remember early Zelda games clearly making out that, “Hey, this is a Stalfos enemy right here! Or how about that Pols Voice enemy, so called because the only way you could originally defeat him on the NES was by shouting into your control pad which was only released in Japan!” Now at 33 years old, I feel stupid as in a room with 3 enemies to defeat, there’s only 6 orders it could be so even if you weren’t sure, trial and error should see you through eventually. 10 year old me said sayonara to T&E and took way too long on this, something you can now learn in 30 seconds with the internet.

 

The bane of my 10 year old existence

 

I also have suddenly found issues with my NES, which recently decided to stop displaying Jurassic Park and Double Dragon, and instead display a nice white screen of death. Looking up the problem online and there’s soooooo many different possibilities for what it could be, and so far I’ve managed to take off the top of my NES, remove this silver tray covering the cartridge holder, and now for some reason it works. If I don’t press the cartridge holder down that is. Still, i’d much rather be trying to fix this primitive item than look into what must be going on in a Playstation 4. I gave up on my Dreamcast not long ago too due to experiencing the ‘time / date’ issue which has begun to plague a lot of Sega fans in the last few years due to dead batteries in the actual console. We all bitched about our 360s RRODing on us 10 years ago, but at least we had Microsoft there with immediate fixes for us!

 

I wonder if Nintendo will still repair these 80s classics…

 

What else have I experienced in recent years; moisture under my Gameboy Advance SP screen! ARGH! Such a good console hampered by the fact that what looks like crystals decided to suddenly form behind the screen and have set up home there for the foreseeable future. Still works mind you but still, such a pain in the ass. Same thing applies to my PSP which has dust accumulating under the screen but this is simply due to Sony’s half assed attempts at putting a hand-held console together. Great games, but the console design left a lot to be desired.

My N64 stick is feeling loose. My Mega Drive buttons aren’t feeling so responsive. My Philips CDI laser is- pah, as if I bought that bollocks. It’s sad that it feels like as I get older myself, and things get slower, and my health is on that slow decline to those final days, the video game paraphernalia I hold in such high regard is doing the exact same thing. I had to throw out a Game Gear a couple of years ago as it had rusted from within. Devastating, though no funerals were held. Whilst I love my genuine NES, things like Nintendo’s recent (debacle) Mini NES release show that people still want a physical form of their entertainment, and not so much as ROMs tucked away on their phones and PCs.

A licence to print money, and Nintendo decided not to renew

 

I don’t know, I think I’ll never be able to let go of the past, when times were a lot easier and you didn’t have to concern yourself with all the hoops that the current gaming generation has to dive through just to get anywhere close to something that resembles a gaming masterpiece. Plug in and play. That’s what we were content with. Now it’s plug in, traverse menu system to start game, download patches, install game (20 mins), play game whilst dealing with a 30 minute tutorial that doesn’t trust you to read an old-school manual to learn how to play it for yourself. Imagine a pop-up in Silent Hill 2 telling you ‘SQUARE = Run’. A love of retro gaming can be a real pain in the ass, but it’s the price you have to pay to keep yourself wedged into the greatest era of video gaming we’ve ever been witness to.

PS: My Super Nintendo is still the only console I’ve NEVER had any problems with, 30 years later. Take THAT modern day gamers.

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